Barring any change in plan, the Supreme Court will, in the next two days, specifically May 4, 2017, hear the objection filed by the Ali Modu Sheriff national leadership against the hearing of an appeal brought before the court by the Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
With the ferocity of the conflict, which has resulted in a recent failed truce between the two groups, there is the fear that the verdict of the apex court may not resolve the tussle.
The Makarfi-led committee filed an appeal with number SC.133/2017, on February 27, 2017, at the Supreme Court, challenging the February 17, 2017 judgment of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, which affirmed Sheriff’s chairmanship.
Both the PDP and Sheriff had filed two separate motions at the apex court challenging the competence of Makarfi’s appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which restored Sheriff as the leader of the party.
The two motions dated March 16 and 21, 2017, are asking the apex court to strike out Makarfi’s appeal, on the grounds that he (Makarfi) does not have the authority to file the appeal on behalf of the PDP. While the motion of the PDP was filed by Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), that of Sheriff was filed by Chief Akin Olujimi (SAN).
The two applicants in their separate motions are contending that by virtue of the Court of Appeal judgment, the issue of authentic leadership for the PDP has been settled. The applicants are also contending that since the Makarfi-led leadership had lost at the appellate court, they have no legal standing to file any appeal on behalf of the PDP as an appellant in the suit. They also insisted that the appeal filed by Makarfi had become incompetent having been filed without the authorization by the PDP or its leadership.
Meanwhile, the Makarfi faction, through its counsel, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN) had filed a counter affidavit to the motions of PDP and Sheriff, praying the court to discountenance the two motions and allow the main appeal to be heard meritoriously. Agabi is asking the court not to give audience to the Sheriff faction because it has no valid notice of appeal before the court and that being a party in Port Harcourt, they have right to bring the appeal before the court.
However, Justice Tanko Mohammed who presided over the five-man panel of the court had given the Sheriff faction 21 days within which to react to the counter affidavit of the Makarfi group and subsequently fixed May 4 to hear the two motions.
Issues that led to the current events cannot be recalled without reference to proceedings from the court of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja. Decisions emanating from Justice Abang’s court over time have elicited controversies among both lawyers and non-lawyers.
Many had, as a result of the judgments of Justice Abang concerning the PDP leadership tussle, expressed ill-informed criticism for the judiciary, while others have concluded that decisions emanating from two judges of the same court, though different divisions, is a sign of lack of sound knowledge of law on the part of the judges.
However, whatever opinion people hold about the judge, the National Judicial Council (NJC) cleared him of any wrongdoing. NJC is the body charged with the responsibility of appointing and disciplining of erring judges in Nigeria. The NJC said Justice Abang did no wrong in his June 29 ruling, where he endorsed a faction of the PDP, led by Sheriff, as authentic.
Justice Abang had on June 28, 2016, sacked the Senator Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee of the party. The court in a ruling held that every action the Committee had taken since it emerged through a convention the party purportedly held in Port Harcourt on May 21, amounted to a nullity.
He held: “Parties have an uncompromising duty to obey court order until it is set aside. The Lagos Division made orders on May 12 and 20, forbidding the PDP from removing the Sheriff-led Caretaker Committee. That order is still subsisting.
“Having regard to the order of the court, PDP had no lawful authority to hold the convention that led to the emergence of the Markafi-led Committee. The convention was unlawfully held and the Caretaker Committee was unlawfully and illegally appointed and could not take any legal decision for the PDP in view of the subsisting order of the Lagos Division of this court.
“Consequently, any action taken by the Markafi-led Committee, including the purported mandate for legal representation in this matter is hereby declared illegal. If the Markafi-led Caretaker Committee, as apostles of impunity, missed their way to the Port Harcourt Division of this court, that court could not have conveniently assumed jurisdiction to set aside the earlier decision of the Lagos Division.”
The decision came after Justice A. M Liman of the Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court affirmed the Makarfi-led faction of the party as legal, following his emergence from the convention that was held in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
Justice Abang held that the Port Harcourt Division of the court couldn’t make an order to neutralize the potency of the Lagos Division and added that he would have voided the Port Harcourt judgment for being a nullity if there was an application to that effect. He therefore warned politicians not to cause disaffection among judges of the High Court saying, “the culture of impunity must stop in this country.”
Not satisfied with the judgment of the lower court, the Makarfi faction approached the court of appeal where he lost his position as chairman of the caretaker committee of the PDP. The Appeal court nullified the PDP national convention in Port Harcourt, which established his committee and described the process that led to it as an abuse of court process.
Two members of the three member-panel, Justice B.G Sanga and Justice A.B Gumel, in their judgment said the convention disobeyed the court order and the court would not close its eyes on such illegality. They thus upheld the judgment of Justice Ibrahim Buba and set aside the judgment of Justice Muhammed Liman. Delivering the lead judgment, Sanga said that PDP convention did not follow the provisions of Article 47(3) of its Constitution in the removal of the Sherrif-led National Working Committee.
According to him, the process of passing a vote of confidence was not observed for Sheriff or the committee as provided by the said article and the national working committee was not put on notice. He stated that Justice Mohammed Liman held in error when he said the appellant committed abuse of court process by postponing the PDP convention.
On his part, Justice Gumel, who is also the Presiding Judge of the court, stated that the preliminary objection filed by the PDP was incompetent. He held that Sheriff and his executive could not be removed until August 2017, except the party held an election.
Gumel described the originating summons in the suit at the Federal High Court as over-reaching, and ordered the parties to maintain the status quo. The judges said that the convention disobeyed a court order and that the court would not close its eye to such illegality.
The court awarded N100,000 to Sheriff, to be borne by the nullified national caretaker committee’s Chairman, Sen. Ahmed Makarfi, the PDP, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Inspector-General of Police and Department of State Service (DSS).
Meanwhile, the third member of the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt, Justice T.S. Orji-Abadua, upheld Justice Mohammed Liman’s judgment, saying that the Port Harcourt convention was legal. With the court of appeal judgment, Justice Abang was vindicated, not only from the hands of his petitioners, but also from the Saulawa-led panel, which was alleged to have ignored facts before it and went further to descend on the personality of the judge.
Some lawyers, while reacting to the judgment of the court of appeal commended the judges. An Abuja based lawyer, Lenox Kachina, who commended the court of appeal panel said, it will go a long way to put an end to the impunity by politicians who take delight in rubbishing the court.
According to him, “There is this thing about politicians, once a judgment or ruling is not in their favour, the court is bad but once it is in their favour, the court is good.
“This is a very clear issue, a Federal High Court in Lagos had given a verdict over the leadership of the PDP but instead of appealing the verdict, they choose to go to another court of coordinate jurisdiction in Port Harcourt. The court of appeal should be commended on this one,” he added.
Despite this, the Makarfi faction had filed an appeal at the Supreme Court and as it stands now, only the apex court would give the final verdict on the conflict, especially as the reconciliation parley recently initiated by former president Goodluck Jonathan failed to record any success.